Monday, July 12, 2010

Mind the Gap

Not long after we moved to Arizona, my daughter found a new best friend. Let’s call her Jaime.

Jaime was a quiet, serious girl. I should have liked Jaime better than I did. My daughter was in middle school and failing. Her behavior had become more and more erratic, and it was clear that she had figured out the truth parents like me dread: that I had absolutely no control over anything she did.

In a way, Jaime stepped in to fill the gap. If I set off a rocket inside her room, I could not get my daughter out of bed in time for the school bus. But Jaime did. She’d come over early and coax my daughter out of bed, into her clothes and onto the bus.

And while I knew my daughter would ignore me if I said it was time for Jaime to go home, Jaime never would. So when it got late, I’d tell my daughter loudly enough for Jaime to hear. And she’d leave over my daughter’s protests that she stay.

I should have liked Jaime, but I didn’t. I didn’t like Jaime because my daughter started really slipping about the time she met her. And I didn’t want to admit that it could be my daughter (or me!) who was the problem. Jaime made a convenient and uncomplaining scapegoat.

The other reason I resented Jaime is that her mother never did any of the driving. So one day, I decided that I was done with that. I agreed to drive the girls to the movies one night, only on the condition that Jaime’s mom would drive the next time. All parties agreed and I assumed it was all settled.

Until the night Jaime’s mom was supposed to drive. My daughter had walked over to Jaime’s house, but not long afterward, the two girls turned up at our house with some story that didn’t make any sense. Something about Jaime’s shoe being lost after it fell off the top of the car.

So I marched over to Jaime’s house to get to the bottom of things. I pounded on the door, and Jaime’s mom answered. It was obvious that she was quite drunk.

I don’t know why I hadn’t figured this out before. My mom did the same thing. When I was growing up, she always made excuses for not driving. She said she couldn’t drive me anywhere in the evenings because she didn’t want to change out of her robe. But the truth is that every evening she was drunk.

Once I saw Jaime’s mom, everything made sense: Jaime’s hyper sense of responsibility, her desire to take care of everyone else, her serious nature. Yet she never let on. I imagine she was ashamed.

I was ashamed, too. Jaime was a lot like I was at her age. If anyone should have seen the signs, it should have been me.

My sponsor talks about “the blessing” that every child should receive at birth: Receiving the blessing means to be:


That doesn’t always happen. I believe all parents want to give their children these things. But sometimes they can’t. They didn’t receive the blessing from their parents, and they can’t give what they don’t have.

Having grown up in an alcoholic home, I didn’t receive the blessing. So I didn’t know how to give it to my own daughter, much less anyone else’s.

Yet, I always wished that, knowing what I knew, I could have been an adult who “stood in the gap” for Jaime.

During Alateen certification training, I was counseled to “check my motives.” I thought I knew what they were. I thought that having grown up in an alcoholic home, I had something to offer these kids. Short of murder, there could be little dysfunction that I could not relate to from my own personal experience. I can relate to having witnessed alcohol and drug abuse, violence and sexual abuse, scuffles with police.

But I realize today that my motives run more deeply than that. I did not subject my daughter to the same conditions I grew up in, but I was not the parent I wanted to be. Even after having made my amends, I regret that I wasn’t able to give my daughter the blessing. God knows I wanted to. I did the best I knew how.

And I can’t think of Jaime without regret.

But this program teaches me that I can’t go back in time. I can’t be the mother I wish I had been. And I can’t be that caring adult for Jaime.

I can only choose how I will behave today.

At some point, I realized that my service in Alateen is less about the kind of parents I had, but the kind of parent I was. It’s a kind of living amends.

By being an Alateen sponsor, I can be an example of the Al-Anon program to these kids. I can stand in the gap for them. And that’s a blessing.


  1. Well shit....I am mopping my face but can't keep up with the mess that this post has created. lol I was Jaimie. My daughter H had girls in her life that I blamed too. Oh God, I relate to so much of this in so many ways. I am working through some of my own mom issues....just posted a blog about it minutes before reading yours...and, well I just don't know. Lots of sadness lately.

    I am so glad you are an Alateen sponsor. What a gift you are to their program. Thank you for writing your amazing blog. I love reading you.

  2. I too grew up in an alcoholic family. Lots of fighting and pulling the father off the mother when he was choking her or hitting her. I so understand what you say, when we grow up in a less than loving and caring home we don't know how to provide that for our children. It took fifteen months of intensive therapy but one of the things I have now laid to rest is my sorrow and regret for the things I was not able to provide my kids. Especially one of them who sounds so much like your daughter at such an early age. I don't have the sorrow any longer. I know how to love her now. She has shut me out of her life and I honor her choice. She continues to make her own mistakes and I hope for a healthy life for her but it is not my job to interfere.

  3. That was a really touching piece. Thank you.

  4. So glad you came to visit me and gave me the gift of finding you. What a post, I'm still trying to swallow the lump in my throat....when I was little no one informed me that motherhood would be filled with guilt. I was the drunk mother but in a different way. I did drive (sober) and all the kids wanted to be at our house. I always joke that our house is the size of a postage stamp (and it is) and yet all my son's friends congregate at it. But I was so overwhelmed with my own children and not wanting to say no to other kids that the only way I could stay smiling was to drink. My son has a friend who comes from a very wealthy family, has every privledge in the world except two parents who are involved in his life. Three years ago his older brother took his life and for some dense reason I thought our family could fill the void for him. But I was like sand running out of an hourglass. I was present but not the parent I wanted to be. I am fortunate to sober up early in my younger children's lives, my oldest saw the most but he's also my biggest supporter. I had to learn to accept the past. I had to learn to love his friend, and be there but that I could never fill the void, I put that young man in my "God" box. Your work in Alateen interests me...what a gift you are for those young people. I tried to be the parent I thought everyone else wanted me to be and failed miserably. I no longer blame my parents for anything, they did the best with what they had, and so do we, acceptance and forgiveness....not easy but necessary, you are right we can choose our behavior today...that is a priceless gift!

  5. A post that describes the terrible things that happen in an alcoholic home. It works through the spirit of a child and changes something within. The shame becomes too much so we hide and pretend to be different or live differently than what we are. Alcoholism extracts a terrible toll. I am glad that you are making the living amends. I am glad that we never brought any children into the world. Maybe that was a kind of amends too.

  6. What a hopeful post. Even though things didn't work out the way you wanted, you are invested in how the future will work out. Such a healthy outlook!!!

  7. Too many kids never get anything like that blessing. I'm glad you now are there for Jaime and others like her.

    I have to say... in a way I am envious of those of you in AlAnon - those of you who can blame their parent's bad behavior on alcohol. I don't have a convenient excuse to assign to my father.

  8. Your post was amazing. I also grew up in an alcoholic home and for years I told people, "I'm didn't affect me at all." Of course, I am a raging control freak and enabled my son's first 3 years of addiction, because if I could just fix all the issues he would be okay and stop using drugs! LOL

    You spoke your story in an amazing way. Thank you for sharing and thank you for all the young people in Ala-teen that you will come in contact with.

  9. Loved this post. I did not get the blessing either, but did from my Heavenly Father and Dr. T. I feel so blessed now.

    I hope I can "stand in the gap" for some younger people, too.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Kathy, you are truly a blessing to me and so many others. :)


  10. A courageous post, Kathy. Thank you.

  11. Thank you for sharing this.
    It's been a long road for me to forgive myself for not being the parent my kids needed me to be.
    It's been hard to accept that it's their journey now. I can't go back and fix anything that happened.
    Living out my recovery now has helped heal the relationships.

  12. In a lot of ways I think "living amends" are the best kind. Great post.


  13. You are changing lives for the better. Thank you for all you do.

  14. You are blessing all of those kids.

  15. wow. such a wonderful and insightful post. it reminds me i must reevaluate my thinking back when my kids were bringing friends around that i didn't care for. you tell your stories with such engaging honesty. thanks for sharing.

  16. Kathy, another amazing post. Thank you.

  17. hi kathy~ i would imagine that the reason you didn't like jamie from the start wasn't just because she arrived in your daughter's life at the time she started slipping, but maybe also because she was so much like you at that age. i think often when we have a gut reaction to people, it says more about how we feel about ourselves than anything about them.

    but i can relate to the "wanting someone to blame" idea. my best friend in college became an alcoholic and got really into drugs, and this happened right around the same time he got to be really close to another person. i felt like that other friend was a "bad influence" and have always felt very bitter and angry towards him. but of course he wasn't pouring the alcohol down my friend's throat. maybe it was easier to be mad at him than at my friend...

    i'm so glad you're in alateen. sounds like you are able to practice being there for teens like you wish you had been for your daughter and jamie. in a way you are healing that old wound.

    hugs to you~~~

  18. Anyone in Alateen that gets you as a sponsor will be very blessed.